Authoritarianism’s Bad Year

Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images.)

As 2022 draws to a close, it’s worth celebrating that this hasn’t been a good year for authoritarianism.

This might seem Pollyannish. After all, just last month, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance issued a report concluding that democracy is in decline while authoritarianism is deepening. Freedom House cataloged “The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule” back in February. “The global order is nearing a tipping point,” the nonprofit declared, “and if democracy’s defenders do not work together to help guarantee freedom for all people, the authoritarian model will prevail.” A Pew study of global attitudes concluded in May: “As democratic nations have wrestled with economic, social and geopolitical upheaval in recent years, the future of liberal democracy has come into question.”

I don’t dispute any of that, with one caveat: The future of liberal democracy is pretty much always an open question, because liberal democracy is always under threat from the authoritarian temptation. Authoritarianism comes naturally to humans, while liberalism has to be taught—and fought for. Whenever liberal democratic capitalism seems to stumble—which is often—authoritarianism suddenly seems like a viable alternative (I wrote a whole book about this).

Sadly, authoritarianism can sound appealing in the abstract, but people tend not to like it when they actually experience it. And while it often works very well for the authoritarians themselves—Vladimir Putin may, in fact, be the world’s richest man—it fails for the average citizen.

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